Transforming children into readers

Literacy advocate Suzy Wilson reflects on the impact of books in the early lives of children

Snuggling up with a beautiful story gives children comfort, security and opens their eyes to a world of story, experiences and knowledge. The delight of a good children's book such as The Very Hungry Caterpillar, is the very best place to start in putting your child on the pathway to literacy.

All the research into how best to help children learn to read, to decode those squiggly black lines on paper, says that the very, very best thing a parent can do is to read to their children. It is surprisingly simple: read, reread and read some more.

Rereading favourite stories helps children get into the rhythms of language and helps build a deep love of words, books, and stories, which will inevitably lead to the drive and desire to crack that code, so they can eventually read for themselves. Surely the cracking of that code is a type of magic, a type of metamorphosis in itself, as the child turns from a non-reader into a reader. This type of metamorphosis should be celebrated by families with great joy, for the opportunities and choices in life that being literate offers.

The Very Hungry Caterpillar is the supernova of children’s picture books. As author and illustrator Eric Carle so aptly puts it, "it has eaten its way into the hearts of literally millions of children all over the world." It has sold over 41 million copies, and been translated into 62 languages. If you multiplied 41 million copies by the number of times each of those copies was read and reread, then you are talking about billions.

Eric Carle's The Very Hungry Caterpillar is a visual feast of richly colourful illustrations, and a story which contains surprise and delight on every page. By the light of the moon, children are taught simple counting skills, they are given a sneaky lesson in science, specifically metamorphosis, and the end result is a book sized piece of timeless magic for us all to enjoy. Can anyone resist that beautiful butterfly at the end?!

The Very Hungry Caterpillar Show live on stage celebrates the special qualities, artistic and educational, of this perennially popular book. How marvellous! I can’t wait to see it.

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Suzy Wilson

Suzy Wilson is owner of Riverbend Books in Bulimba and founder of the Indigenous Literacy Foundation which aims to develop literacy skills in remote Australian communities and provide resources for sustainable education. The annual Indigenous Literacy Day raises funds and awareness for the Foundation. Suzy is a passionate advocate for reading and literacy and through her work encourages a culture of reading in the local and wider community. In 2014, Suzy was recognised in the Australia Day Awards winning the Queensland Local Hero Award. Suzy has also been awarded the Johnno Prize which recognises the contribution of an exceptional individual or group to Queensland writers and writing.

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